Andrea Karshan's Articles, Housing, New York

Free Legal Services Help Tenants Gain Edge On Landlords, Report Says

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By Andrea Karshan

With the release of the city’s newly created Office of Civil Justice’s first annual report, Mayor Bill de Blasio praised the agency’s efforts to bring tenants more legal representation, but a landlord’s advocacy group says another part of the de Blasio’s initiative for low-income New Yorkers is making a bigger difference for tenants.

The report, released by the de Blasio administration yesterday, showed that 27 percent of tenants in Housing Court for eviction proceedings have legal representation – up from 1 percent in 2013. This legal representation was a result of annual investments of over $100 million in civil legal services by the administration.

The city’s Human Resources Administration’s (HRA) anti-eviction legal services are available to all low-income tenants regardless of housing type. In addition, HRA has a tenant legal program to combat harassment and protect tenants. De Blasio’s initiative also includes funding for benefits and payment of back rent for low-income New Yorkers.

“As we face one of the most serious affordable housing crises in our city’s history, we have made an unprecedented commitment to provide legal assistance for low-income New Yorkers, and we are beginning to see the results of these efforts,” said de Blasio.

“The Office of Civil Justice’s first annual report documents the progress we have made in providing New Yorkers in need with access to quality legal representation, particularly to prevent evictions and harassment by unscrupulous landlords,” he added.

But Frank Ricci, spokesperson for the Rent Stabilization Association, the largest trade association in New York representing 25,000 property owners and agents responsible for approximately one million units of housing, thinks the city paying back rent for tenants is making more of a difference.

“The fact that the city is paying back rents for tenants in arrears is having a much greater impact on keeping tenants in their apartments than the legal representation the city is providing. In the end the rent must be paid and in the majority of situations it’s because the tenant simply doesn’t have the money,” said Ricci.

The city did not have the information available at post time as to how much money they have paid in back rent for tenants since the $100 million allocation for legal services, but Brooklyn City Council Members Stephen Levin (Downtown Brooklyn, Wiliamsburg, Borerum Hill) andJumaane Williams (Flatbush, East Flatbush, Midwood) applauded the addition of legal services.

“At a time when tenant harassment and abuse is at an all-time high, tenants need someone on their side to fight back. By providing legal representation to our most needy the City is leveling the playing field and keeping tenants in their homes. This report highlights the progress being made in the midst of the housing affordability crisis, and I applaud the Mayor’s continued commitment to this groundbreaking initiative,” said Levin.

“Given the lack of affordable, quality housing opportunities in the city, many bad-acting landlords continue to take advantage of our City’s most vulnerable residents. This is why, as Chair of the Committee on Housing and Buildings, we’ve held numerous hearings and passed a number of bills aimed at helping keep people in their homes, and preventing illegal, unlawful activities aimed at pressuring them out. I’m pleased that the administration, and the council, is continuing its efforts to protect those who need it most,” said Williams.

Tenants who need legal assistance for housing–related issues can call 311, send emails to civiljustice@hra.nyc.gov, call the Tenant Protection Hotline at (917) 661-4505 or the Tenant Support Unit at (929) 252-7244.

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Free Legal Services Help Tenants Gain Edge On Landlords, Report Says

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